IT was the move that nobody saw coming.
Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to sign with Renault instead of Red Bull is the biggest shock in quite a few seasons of F1’s transfer market.
It’s the biggest since Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement after winning the 2016 title, or Sebastian Vettel’s switch to Ferrari at the end of 2014.
Ricciardo’s move is such a surprise because Renault is one team that he hasn’t been linked with in the many months he’s had to contemplate his future.
Mercedes? Yes. Ferrari? Definitely yes. Red Bull? Yes, after all, there were worse options. McLaren? Remember what I said about worse options…
But Renault? Renault? The team whose lethargic engines have prevented him from fighting for the world championship these past few years?
Yet move to Renault he has, joining Nico Hulkenberg in yellow for 2019.
It throws quite a spanner into F1’s delicate driver transfer market, with Ricciardo one of several key pieces amid the overall puzzle of the 2019 driver line-up.
Here’s what Ricciardo’s shock switch means for next year’s grid.
No change of plans here for 2019. They locked in Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at the German Grand Prix, closing off one potential avenue for Ricciardo.
What it does do, though, is make Bottas’ position more secure. The Finn is only signed until the end of next year, with Mercedes holding an extra one-year option on his services.
Max Verstappen is the only big-name driver off contract at that point — and Ricciardo’s departure means it will do even more to ensure the Dutchman hangs around long term.
Despite Ricciardo saying ahead of Germany that there was still a sliver of hope of him heading to Maranello next year, it will not come to pass.
Sebastian Vettel is confirmed for 2019, but the Scuderia is yet to determine who his teammate will be.
The sudden death of Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne, who it was thought was pushing for change, has strengthened the likelihood that Kimi Raikkonen will be retained for another season at least.
Charles Leclerc is still a chance at securing a rapid promotion, but he is more likely to ply his trade at a different Ferrari-powered team in 2019.
As stated above, Max Verstappen will now be the defacto Numero Uno at Red Bull. But who joins him?
The logical answer is Carlos Sainz. He’s under contract with Red Bull, he is now out of a drive at Renault (muchas gracias, Daniel …) and he was virtually a match for Verstappen when they were together at Toro Rosso.
So why didn’t Red Bull announce him alongside Ricciardo’s departure, just as they did Daniil Kvyat’s promotion when it revealed Vettel was leaving in October 2014.
The current thinking is that Sainz is keen on a move to McLaren, and that the British squad is keen to have a rated top-line driver to place alongside Fernando Alonso — assuming ‘nando wants to keep racing in F1.
Red Bull also has the option of promoting the impressive Pierre Gasly to its main squad, although that would leave Toro Rosso with a bit of a dilemma…